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Aston Martin Vantage review: No mere facelift

Aston Martin Vantage review: No mere facelift
PHOTO: Max Earey & Andy Morgan

The new Aston Martin Vantage's step change in character is clear evidence of having benefitted from the brand's participation in motorsport.

Two decades ago, Aston Martin used the Vantage nameplate relatively sparingly on cars produced between 1973 and 1993. However, it never appeared on a standalone model until the 2004 V8 Vantage.

Fourteen years later, Aston Martin dropped the "V8" prefix in 2018 after it felt that the Vantage model was more established. The carmaker must be feeling confident, too, since it's willing to have the latest Vantage put through its paces — with each journalist getting 15 laps — around the Monteblanco Circuit, which is relatively bumpy and abrasive.

Aston Martin says this Vantage is the third-generation model. Although it is based on the outgoing platform, there are so many revised and re-engineered parts that calling it a mere "facelift" would be to slight the engineers' efforts.

The latest Vantage's styling is cleaner up front, with far better integration of the front openings despite them being larger. They are needed to gulp down more air to cool the engine, which is 30 per cent more powerful than before.

In terms of aerodynamics, the car develops 77kg of downforce at maximum speed without the help of any wings. At the rear, the Vantage's body is now 30mm wider. Even the wing mirrors now sport fashionably thin bezels.

Fortunately, a drive in the new Vantage is all it takes to convince one that the step change in the character and dynamics of the Vantage is not just due to the additional power.

The Vantage required a couple of warm-up laps before the Michelin Pilot Sport S 5 tyres, which are street-biased tyres, could hook up well. The twin-turbocharged 4-litre V8, producing 656hp and 800Nm of torque, is one potent powerplant capable of taking the Vantage from a standstill to 100km/h in just 3.5 seconds.

Although I never hit its top speed of 325km/h on the circuit, the acceleration potential of the Vantage is genuinely impressive.

The test cars were fitted with the optional, fade-resistant carbon-ceramic brakes. Measuring 410mm in front and 350mm in the rear, they would glow red-hot at the end of the straightaway, when the cars were at speeds of up to 260km/h.

Connections and feelings

Aston Martin's work on the engine's throttle response has given the Mercedes-AMG sourced, twin-turbocharged V8 similar progression and linearity to a naturally aspirated engine, thereby enhancing the drive experience whenever part throttle is required.

This was necessary when exiting several corners of the circuit but proved far more useful while driving on regular roads.

To cope with the output figures, the Vantage is fitted a new beefed-up ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, mounted on the rear axle to achieve 50:50 weight distribution. Its shift times have been further reduced, and the engineers have also fitted a shorter gear ratio in the E-Diff to improve acceleration in all gears.

While the Vantage proved capable on track — even while fitted with street tires — its real talents came to the fore around the twisty, challenging roads surrounding the Monteblanco circuit.

One does not have to drive far or fast to feel the positive connection the Vantage has with the road. Kudos to the development team for tuning the electrically assisted power steering to deliver outstanding levels of feel. It is even akin to the best hydraulic-assisted steering systems of the past.

The well-judged weight, along with the responsiveness, telegraphs what's happening at the contact patches convincingly well. This instils great confidence when piloting the 1745kg coupe over winding roads with minimal understeer.

The Vantage's mass, while palpable on track, is seemingly absent on regular roads. Thanks to the chassis tuning done in conjunction with Michelin, the Vantage stops, accelerates and changes direction as if it were a much lighter car.

However, despite using Bilstein dampers with DTX technology, the Vantage's ride quality is not as polished as that of the DB12. It's just as well, since the Vantage is meant to satisfy the sporty end of the Super-GT segment, whereas the DB12 appeals to drivers seeking more comfort and refinement.

That said, the Vantage's default "Sport" mode offers an admirable degree of suppleness that is uncommon for something this sporty.

"Sport Plus" controls body movements better and I preferred this setting for country roads as it offers a modicum of compliance. "Track", on the other hand, is so firm that it is truly meant for smooth surfaces.

Chasing limits

While the Aston Martin-tuned V8 dishes out 800Nm of torque from low revs, I wrung the motor to the redline just for the soundtrack.

Naturally, with so many German-British ponies ready to be unleashed on normal roads, the engine belts out too much speed to be safe. Gratefully, the aforementioned part-throttle response is nigh on superb, allowing one to mete out the right dose when entering and exiting corners.

One of the oft-heard gripes about the preceding Vantage was the infotainment system, which like the engine, was also inherited from Mercedes-Benz.

The infotainment system in the latest Vantage features Aston Martin's own system. The 10.25-inch touchscreen display delivers a more responsive and coherent user experience. Apple CarPlay is on hand, but Android Auto will only be implemented at a later date.

The comfortable sport seats were more than adequate for fast road use, providing cushiness and lateral restraint. There's a sportier option made from carbon fibre that is lighter and offers a snugger fit that's more appropriate for track use.

But while the standard sports seats are height-adjustable, the carbon fibre seats are not. Coupled with the fact that the latter are mounted 10mm lower, height-challenged drivers may want to try them out first before ticking the box for these expensive options.

If you wonder what Aston Martin's participation in Formula 1 has to do with their road cars, one only has to view the order books to see that Track Podium Green is currently the favoured colour, though Satin Xenon Grey is just as appealing.

Of late, Aston Martin is enjoying a coming together of all their various efforts, be it in F1 and GT4 racing, or brand building and vehicle development. Following the conclusion of this Vantage drive, it is clear that for the first time, Aston Martin has a complete stable of great cars.

Aston Martin Vantage 4.0 (A)

Engine: 3982cc, 32-valves, V8, twin-turbocharged
Max power: 656hp at 6000rpm
Max torque: 800Nm at 2000-5000rpm
Power to weight: 375.9hp per tonne
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic with manual select
0-100km/h: 3.5 seconds
Top speed: 325km/h
Consumption: 9.7km/L (combined)
Price excl. COE: From $1,068,000
Agent: Wearnes Automotive

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This article was first published in Torque. Permission required for reproduction.

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